BEIRUT: War films are not new to the silver screen, and though audiences have been exposed to them for eons, somehow filmmakers have continued to find ways of reinventing and reinvigorating this genre.
A few years ago, director Christopher Nolan released Dunkirk, which went on to garner Oscar nods and wins, but, the audience’s opinion on the film was quite divided.
Now, at the start of the new decade, director Sam Mendes brings us an innovative new take on the genre with his film 1917.
1917 tells the story of two young British soldiers at the height of the war, Lance Corporal Schofield, played heroically by George MacKay and Lance Corporal Blake, played by Game of Thrones actor Dean-Charles Chapman, as they are given a seemingly impossible task.
In a race against time, they must cross enemy territory to deliver a message that could potentially save 1,600 of their fellow soldiers—Blake’s own brother among them.
In this immersive cinematic experience, Mendes thrusts the audience into the immediate peril and vast scale of World War I, witnessing the conflict in an urgent and propulsive way by having his camera never leave them.
This long-take technique forces the audience to travel every step, and breathe every breath with these young soldiers.
Yet, as beautiful and as engaging as this technique is, it also comes with the challenges on ensuring that everything within the frame is concrete, and air tight – from choreography, to production design, and all the way to performance.
1917 doesn’t only mesmerize visually, but, also narratively, due to the urgency and relevancy of the young soldiers’ mission.
Mendes and co-writer Krysty Wilson-Cairns meticulously craft an epic saga about brotherhood, sacrifice, and most importantly hope.
This tale when united with the visuals bring to the audience an unforgettable experience that reminds of the difficulty of war, and how we in modern times no longer understand the true meaning of sacrificing everything, including one’s life, for something larger than yourself.
Mendes and Wilson-Cairnes take these young men on a journey filled with terror, moments of isolation and solitude against this huge adversity and what heightens this is the present-tense action of the film.
Both young actors deliver more than solid performances and it’s clear how much physical and emotional effort was required on their part due to the nature of the film’s production.
Though this might seem a bit repetitive, the weight of 1917 rests with the immersive, visceral, and continuous way it is presented to the audience.
Mendes’ vision to capture the story in real time in a way that plays as one continuous shot obliges the audience to join the characters and engross themselves in their turbulent journey.
As there is no cut within a scene, the viewer, much like Schofield and Blake, is not able to step away from the mission that lies in front of them.
Shot in this way, the audience gets an authentic, tangible sense of what these boys would have gone through.
The audience truly gets a sense of the distance traveled and how important that is, and on top of that emotionally connects to the journey that the two central characters are on.
All this would not have been accomplished if it weren’t for Academy Award winner Roger Deakins’s work on this film, which will no doubt garner him another Oscar win.
It’s Deakins’s balance between being close and being far and where the camera was placed and how it was following the action.
Nothing about this film is simple, and this is what makes it so memorable.
Ultimately, the film pays tribute not just to World War I soldiers but, also to all military members, past and present and their sacrifice for the greater good and pursuit of freedom.
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